An Arc of Water
It’s midweek and the children beg for a museum and church-free day. My husband and I nod in agreement and drive to the Seven Seas, a water park at the base of Cortona, the walled hill town depicted in Frances Mayes’ memoir, Under the Tuscan Sun. Despite unrelenting heat, there’s no line. Once inside the wooden fence, we discover three cerulean pools. The gurgle and flow of a water slide punctuates the silence. With the exception of two women sunning themselves, the place is empty.
Our two water sprites, Anna, 12 and Julia, 10, toss towels onto a chaise longue and hurl themselves into the nearest pool, the one with the slide. Julia has a young equine quality—lean, long-limbed, a bit awkward. Anna’s angles have begun to soften, a sign she approaches the transition into adolescence. But today, both are joyous children, spared my dawdling along cobbled streets and reading to them aloud from a Rick Steves travel guide.
I long to explore Cortona, linger before Fra Angelico’s Annunciation in the Museo Diocesano, and visit treasures housed in the Etruscan Museum. Instead, I’m in the valley, settled into a poolside chair with a paperback.
I hear voices and squint into the intense light. Bronzed teenagers, two bikini-clad girls and three boys, have arrived and slip into the pool. They call to each other in Italian and motion to our daughters to join them on the water slide. Our girls hesitate, but follow them up the ladder. At the top in the staging area, the girls sit, link arms with the teenagers to form a mass of entwined limbs, a human dam, and wait for the water to rise at their backs. They let go, surge down the chute, and plunge into the pool with a thunderous splash. They’re laughing when their heads pop to the surface. Again, the teenagers return to the ladder and signal for Anna and Julia. Tenderness toward these young people laps the shores of my heart.
Two boys, Anna and Julia’s ages, appear and sit at the pool’s edge. The younger of the two, slightly pudgy, awaits a growth spurt. The older boy is a study in geometry: all angles and planes. Like our girls, they’re poised on the cusp of transformation. After a few minutes, the boys wade toward the group, but the teenagers shake their heads and float into the shallows to talk among themselves. Our daughters, race to the slide, the boys at their heels. Soon, the four hurtle down the chute together.
I sink into a doze, but a voice prods me to wakefulness. I open one eye and see the younger boy call to Julia as she climbs from the pool.
“Come si chiama?” What’s your name?“Dove abita?”Where do you live?
Julia doesn’t even take a backward glance. At first, I wonder if she’s heard him, then it registers that I hear him, and I’m farther away. The boy repeats his inquiry. Julia scuttles up the rungs. Although her Italian language skills are limited, I’ve seen her chat up locals behind gelato counters, so surely she knows when someone asks her name. She could respond non capisco, I don’t understand, or non parlo Italiano, I don’t speak Italian, but she’s silent. I glimpse at the open-faced boy and think: Have mercy, Jules. Give him something, a word of acknowledgment, anything.But, she doesn’t.
He retreats to the side of the pool where his older companion sits, feet dangling in the water.
The girls move to the pool with three diving platforms. Anna starts at the lowest level and without hesitation jumps in feet first. She masters this height and proceeds to spring into the pool in every way imaginable. Only a belly flop slows her down. Julia screws up her courage and makes her way to the lowest level. She stands for a several minutes before she jumps, coaxed and prodded by her sister.
Anna ascends to the next tier and after a few failed attempts, finally drops into the water. She climbs outs, shakes herself off, and heads back to the ladder.
The two boys wander over, flip into the pool at the opposite end, and swim toward the girls. The four take turns leaping from the first two platforms, with Julia stalled at the lowest level.
In mid-afternoon, it’s time to leave. The girls are reluctant. The proprietor urges us to return later, gratuito, without cost.
Several hours later, when we do return, we’re greeted like old friends. Anna and Julia make a beeline to the diving platforms. I sit on the tiled edge and submerge my feet. The teenagers are gone, but the two boys lay poolside, and ease back into the water, grinning, when they see the girls. Anna rushes up a ladder and dives from the second level sending an arc of water that soaks my shirt. I scamper to the chairs set back from the pool’s perimeter and watch the children cannonball into blue.
Julia spies a tiny kitten shivering beneath a chair. She pulls herself from the pool and cuddles the mewing fluff to her wet chest, torn between a desire to comfort and hope of bounding off the second diving platform.
Anna, distracted only momentarily by the kitten, climbs to the third and highest platform with a look of determination tinged with fear. They’ve not ventured to this height. She attempts a running take off, but falters. Then, like her sister earlier, stands frozen at the edge. My husband and I call encouragements, as do the Italians, until she steps into the abyss and plummets through space, moments of bliss before she slices the water.
When the sun brushes the horizon, we gather our belongings, convince Julia the kitten would be heartbroken to leave the Seven Seas, and halt Anna’s climb toward another flight. As we reach the exit, I look back. Both boys stand—the younger cradles the kitten in his arms—and watch our girls disappear with the light.
Diana Dinverno, a mother of two, is a graduate of the University of Michigan and the University of Detroit School of Law. Her work has appeared in Peacock Journal, Ekphrastic Review, Peninsula Poets, The MacGuffin, American Fiction—Volume 15:The Best Unpublished Stories by New and Emerging Writers, and other publications. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Michigan Poetry Society’s 2018 Founder’s Prize and Detroit Working Writers’ 2018 YA/NA Fiction Prize. Read more at dianadinverno.com.